What is a coronavirus?
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). A novel coronavirus (e.g., 2019-nCoV) is a new strain of coronavirus that has not been previously identified in humans.
What are the symptoms of a coronavirus infection?
It depends on the particular strain, but common signs of a person infected with a coronavirus include:
- Respiratory symptoms;
- Shortness of breath; and
- Breathing difficulties.
In more severe cases, infection can cause:
- Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS);
- Kidney failure; and
How are coronaviruses transmitted?
Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they are typically transmitted between animals and people. However, some coronaviruses (e.g., 2019-nCoV) can be transmitted from person to person, usually after close contact with a person showing symptoms of respiratory illness (e.g., coughing, sneezing).
What steps can an employer take to reduce the risk of exposure to and transmission of a coronavirus?
Be aware of travel advisories issued by the federal government, and avoid business travel to areas where there has been a coronavirus outbreak. Consider:
- Postponing the trip;
- Changing the location; or
- Conducting the business remotely.
In addition, advise employees to follow standard recommendations for protecting against a range of illnesses, including:
- Avoiding close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing;
- Maintaining basic hand hygiene (e.g., frequently washing hands with soap and water; using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer);
- Maintaining basic respiratory hygiene (e.g., coughing and sneezing into a tissue or an elbow; immediately throwing away used tissues and washing hands);
- Refraining from touching eyes, nose and mouthy
- Regularly cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched items and surfaces;
- Seeking medical care early when experiencing potential symptoms of a coronavirus and sharing travel history with the health care provider; and
- Following safe food practices (e.g., avoiding consumption of raw or undercooked animal products).
May an employer require an employee who has traveled to a coronavirus-affected area or is suspected of having the coronavirus to undergo a medical examination before returning to work?
It depends. Under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), an employer may not require an employee to undergo a medical examination unless it is job-related and justified by a business necessity. Generally, the ADA allows an employer to request medical information or order a medical examination when an employer has a reasonable belief, based on objective evidence, that the employee will pose a direct threat (substantial harm) to others due to a medical condition. In determining whether an illness is a direct threat, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Pandemic Preparedness Guidance instructs employers to take direction from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or state/local public health authorities.
Please see the CDC’s website for current precautions and travel notices/risks: